Yesterday, Phil and I saw Sir Elton John perform at Peterborough’s ABAX stadium. What we experienced, what we saw and heard and felt, was greatly needed and transcended mere notes on a piano.
In a month or so that has seen terrorist attacks, political instability and the nearing of a year both since Jo Cox’s brutal murder and the decision to leave the EU, it’s safe to say that there is a lot of fear, anxiety and uncertainty over our fair nation right now. Segregation, fighting between friends, fake news, anger, division.
Yesterday we were in the presence of a creative genius. On any day that would have been mind-blowing, but this was life, it was living, it was enjoyment and excitement and friendship with every single other person in the stadium. It was a 70-year-old man at a piano, bringing thousands of people together for 2 hours.
As someone for whom music is almost as crucial as breathing (slight exaggeration, but only a slight one), the impact that extraordinary musical moments can have upon me is great. I mourned the losses of great singers I’d never even met as last year’s death toll grew and grew, a song can raise me up or bring me down, lyrics can transport me to times and places that my heart and brain never even knew existed. When innocent people were murdered in Manchester last month, the loss and the tragedy was somehow even deeper because of the fact that it was so targeted at young people experiencing a rite of passage – their first concert, their idol on stage. Whatever that moment meant for them it should never have meant death.
Elton John paid tribute to those affected by the horrific terrorist attacks in both Manchester and London, before dedicating a truly moving performance of ‘I Want Love’ to them. The mood wasn’t somber, it was united. You could feel a palpable sense of poignancy, of love and of pain, but not once iota of negativity. My eyes welled up, I saw others crying. Elton John finished the song and the opening notes to my favourite of his – ‘Tiny Dancer’ – rang out. The tears trickled down my face because music is that powerful, that important.
A few more songs, the crowd soaking in the experience. Then the list of famous deaths in the music industry during 2016. We all knew what was coming and as the sun went down behind the stage, George Michael’s image formed the backdrop to a truly beautiful performance of ‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me’.
The concert continued, the stage display changed, the dancing began; ‘I’m Still Standing’ raised arms, spirits and determination. We danced, we sang, the security and first aid teams joined in, people made friends with their concert neighbours and for that time, we were one. The atmosphere was electric and people of all ages, genders, races, shapes, sizes, political persuasions, fashion tastes – every single thing that makes us different – joined together in complete and utter joy.
I may sound like I’m full of hippie, tree-hugging, socialist crap right now but believe me, it was nothing short of beautiful.
I saw people criticising the One Love Manchester concert because “what’s the point?”. The point, is that music can help to heal broken hearts and broken societies. It can unite a divided people. It can bring hope and joy and happiness and it matters. One Love Manchester didn’t rid the world of terrorism, neither will Sir Elton John or any other musician or gig.
Music can’t stop evil but it can elicit a much-needed dose of positivity and strength to help us all to keep going, keep living, keep showing the bastards that we will not be beaten by extremism in any form. We are still standing.